In a field dominated by women and devoted largely to solo work, Indian dancer and choreographer C.V. Chandrasekhar has been helping to break new ground by creating dances for groups that include men.
Chandrasekhar also has been using more of the dancer’s body to extend the movement vocabulary of Bharata Natyam, the classical dance idiom of southern India that traces its origins back thousands of years to temple worship services.
“There are few men in Bharata Natyam, but right from the beginning we have considered (the male god) Shiva as the Lord of the Dance,” Chandrasekhar said in a recent phone interview from Washington, D.C., where his troupe was dancing before an engagement Sunday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
“Why men don’t dance, I really don’t know.” But he suggested that the fear of being considered effeminate, which also plagues male dancers in the West, “probably has been a stigma for a male dancer.”
“But in recent years, some men have been accepted, especially when not doing solos.”
In addition to Chandrasekhar, there are four male dancers and three female dancers, including his two daughters, in his troupe, Nrityashree of Vadodara.
The 14-year-old company is on its first U.S. tour. It also includes his wife, who is a vocalist and will present several of Chandrasekhar’s works--the hour-long dance drama, “Arohanam” (Ascent), and two excerpts--Spring and Summer--from “Ritu Samharam” (The Seasons). The program is sponsored by the Arpana Foundation of Irvine.
The first dance, he said, takes “a sweeping look at the theory of evolution,” combining it with concepts from Indian mythology such as the notion of incarnation.
The second dance is a more abstract work with seasonal themes “presented in the form of a dance.”
Chandrasekhar, who began dancing in the early 1940s and has been choreographing for 25 years, says that he adheres “totally” to the basic style of Bharata Natyam, but is “extending the possibilities” because he feels that the potential of the movements has not been “fully tapped.”
“I’m not changing the movements, but giving them embellishments,” he said. “I’m trying to give meaning to the entire movement--the entire body--not only the face and hand gestures that convey moods characteristic of Indian dance.”
First, though, he trains his dancers in the traditional solo forms. “I want them to be solo dancers and have the potential for narrating stories with different characters, and also to dance in a group. Then I use them for my own work. . . .
“But it’s not like modern dance breaking off of ballet. I am taking only a little liberty in making the technique a little more varied.”
His group choreography involves from four to 20 dancers and reflects two basic organizational ideas: “One, when all the members on the stage do the same movement, which requires absolute coordination and continual rehearsals to be in unison to show there is one movement going on.
“The other, in which each group or individuals are doing different things. It’s like a painting. There are different regions of paper in a painting which show different activities going on.”
There is a pragmatic aspect to the current trend in Indian dance toward group choreography, which he has helped foster, “because there is so much competition for solo dancers to be performing solo all the time.”
“Group performances give many dancers a chance to take part and dance on stage. From an audience point of view, it gives them a variety. So there is more and more acceptance of this form.”
But there has been criticism of these and other of Chandrasekhar’s innovations.
“Some critics and audiences feel that when I’m using body movements to show emotional sequences, I’m trying to copy something from Western ballet or modern dance--which has never been an inspiration for me.
“We have our own dance forms in the East. Manipuri, for instance, hardly uses the face to express emotions, but the whole movement of the body really conveys emotional sequences. It’s been there already, in our own system.”
What he is most worried about is that some Indian dancing has “gotten too fast. Especially the music. Our music was not as fast as it now exists.”
He blames the change on the “jet age” which has brought the impact of “world music into every (Indian) musical system,” including the classical forms.
“It’s easier to dance fast than to dance slow, it’s less tiring to dance fast,” he said. “But it masks the beauty of the movement when it’s done too fast. There is much more to do in a slow movement. Speed is a thing which attracts the general audience, but it is not a good trend. It becomes very calculated.”
* Nrityashree of Vadodara will dance “Arohanam” (Ascent) and excerpts from “Ritu Samharam” (The Seasons) by company founder C.V. Chandrasekhar on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $10 to $15. (714) 854-4646. *
FAMILY CONCERTS: Pacific Symphony’s 1993-94 season of six Saturday morning family concerts opens Oct. 2 with a program of works by Beethoven, Strauss and Holst at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
Programs will be at 10 and 11:30 a.m., and will be led by Edward Cumming, the orchestra’s assistant conductor. The season continues on Nov. 13, Dec. 18, Feb. 19, April 9 and May 21.
Season tickets: $42 for children under 12; $54 for adults. Single tickets at $8 for children and $10 for adults will go on sale approximately five weeks before each concert. (714) 755-5799.